Updated: Nov 28, 2022
It’s becoming more and more common for dads to be spending more time with their kids, taking on many or all childcare duties throughout the week. I’ve not so recently become a dad, and I thought it might be helpful to give you an insight into my experiences as a work-from-home daddy, who over the last 18 months has been learning to juggle business, fitness, and fatherhood.
Let’s start with a little context. I’m a self-employed British ex-pat living in Switzerland, running a nutrition coaching and education business. My little dude Henry is coming up to 18 months old at the time of writing, and from the minute he arrived in our lives it’s been an absolute roller coaster of the best kind.
Early on in the pregnancy we talked about how we’d juggle work and childcare, my wife heads up a small team at work, and I was just starting up self-employed. For the two of us, it was a completely logical decision for me having the most flexibility, to take care of Henry two days a week. Katharina has him one day a week and the nursery looks after him for the remaining two days.
We took this approach because we felt it benefitted Henry to maximise his time with us as a family, whilst still socialising and having his own time at nursery. It also meant that Katharina and I still have time to focus on work and enjoy our time as a family unit.
My approach to having Henry two days a week has absolutely evolved out of wanting to be involved and spend time looking after him, whilst balancing the need to work and study to keep and grow the business. It’s a real swinging pendulum, and it can be hard to separate the two at times, ultimately I have four core areas I aim to optimise to help me get the most out of work, exercise, and family life.
This has seen the biggest impact of having Henry in our lives, as looking after a little one two days a week takes a massive chunk out of the working week. Currently, I have Monday, Thursday, and Friday reserved for business and study, so I see these as my 3 core days for deep work. These days, efficiency is key. If I am dropping Henry off at nursery, I take my kit bag and head for the gym straight after. This lets me maximise my time the rest of the day, spending it on clients, marketing, research and studying for courses that enhance my business.
On our Henry and Daddy days, I’ve learned to never start the day with a concrete plan to work. These are, at their core, days for Henry and me to enjoy, and I try to treat them as such. If I work at all during the daytime it’s when Henry is sleeping in the afternoon and even then, it will be ‘soft’ work, Emails, reading etc. The evenings are then available for me to have calls, do some work for clients or do soft study tasks.
Urgent appointments or deadlines obviously pop up on these days from time to time and sometimes work is unavoidable, but in those cases, Katharina and I can work out some time, or I call on friends and family. Depending on the situation, I can sometimes take Henry with me.
Keeping myself fit and active has several benefits for me. Beyond my personal longevity, keeping my fitness program means I am fit and healthy to look after Henry, and I’m likely to be able to run around and keep up with him for longer. From a business standpoint, being fit and healthy is a win for a nutritionist and mentally the exercise gives me a cognitive break and stress relief, nurturing my own well-being, which is better for everybody!
To me, fitness is non-negotiable. The benefits of making time for it daily FAR outweigh the negatives, it may not take the form I would prefer or have planned, but I prioritise getting movement in every day.
I’m a gym rat at heart, I love lifting weights and I typically follow some form of traditional bodybuilding or powerlifting program. I plan my training, so I have three core sessions a week, which match up with my core workdays and often plan several additional lighter and faster sessions in case I get the time to do more. On a typical week, though, I can be sure to get three lifting days in.
The days I look after Henry are not spared from exercise, but these days are much more relaxed and less structured. I typically go for a walk with Henry mid-morning, so he can sleep, and I get some cardio in—steps are my NEAT benchmark on these days. I loosely aim to match my step count from my training days, and often exceed them running around after a speeding toddler all day. It’s a surrogate marker, but it’s a good trend to keep an eye on to monitor how active I am (see my article on NEAT here).
As Henry has gotten older and more mobile, I’ve become very keen for him to see both Katharina and me exercising. We try to fit in Yoga when we can, which Henry gets to watch, as well as seeing mummy leave for cycling or running. I have also started to include at least one of my extra light sessions with kettlebells each week, which he finds fascinating and fun trying to join in!
Something I have certainly learned though for both fitness and work is that flexibility is key! I can totally see myself adjusting my work schedule and approach to gym and cardio as Henry’s needs change, and have learnt to keep my eyes open to opportunities for work or exercise whenever they’re available.
It wouldn’t be an article written by a nutritionist without the inclusion of this section. I am obviously very aware of the need to fuel myself and cover my nutritional bases, and It’s been an interesting experience trying to find ways to fit food in whilst looking after a constantly moving and mischievous little man.
My approach to food these days starts right back at the shopping list. Colour and variety are what I look for, and I aim to stock the kitchen with easily prepped and quickly consumed nutrient-dense foods. This means we can get fed on the fly between colouring in, emptying every cupboard in the flat, or finding new ways for Henry to put himself in imminent mortal danger.
We are lucky that Breakfasts are often as a family before Katharina starts work. Henry eats a variation of my breakfast most days (oats, fruit, dairy, with some bread and peanut butter) so I can prepare it at the same time. I eat more protein than Henry at lunch, but I always include complex carbs like couscous, sweet potatoes, or rice, for him. These are all easily and quickly prepared on the hob or in the microwave (a microwave is a massive time and stress saver with kids!) There’s a good variety of veg on offer each day (we love pumpkins, spinach, and beetroot at the moment) with olive oil, avocado, egg, or nut butters for fats. Soups are incredibly easy and convenient, especially when prepared in bulk beforehand. Because Henry is learning to eat by himself and he needs my help, I typically eat much later than him. Getting in a big easy salad and some precooked eggs/ chicken/fish whilst he plays after lunch is definitely the norm for now!
It can be hard to get enough food in on these days, as Henry only stops when he’s sleeping. I noticed that I often had a lot still to eat by the end of the day, even with lunch and a snack in the middle before dinner. Drinking during the day was getting pretty hard, so I now include a protein shake with fruits and often nuts/avocado mid-morning. That way I have a better time staying hydrated and stave off hunger until my inevitably late lunch. I’ll have my usual Yoghurt and fruit snack whilst Henry sleeps in the afternoon, so I don’t have tons left to eat in the evening.
Dinner on our days varies a lot. Katharina is usually home by the time we are ready to start preparing it, so whilst one of us looks after Henry, the other is cooking the meal. This is often something like chilli, roasted potatoes and vegetables or Lentils as they are quick to prepare or easy to make in bulk and freeze.
I eat just about the same on work days, always aiming for colour and variety, but including more meals around training. In general, my protein needs are much higher than Henry’s or Katharina’s so do tend to eat larger and more regular portions but overall, we eat the same sorts of foods for now, which comes in very handy!
Just a quick note as well on being out and about with Henry. There are obviously days when we’re out running errands or heading into town or away from home for much of the day. Other than finding Daddy-friendly changing facilities (maybe rant for another day) these days are generally pretty fun. Finding food for Henry is quite straightforward, if we’re in a café or restaurant he gets a smaller portion of what I would eat. If we are truly on the go, then he will often have some fruit, a vegetable, or a yoghurt pouch and maybe some cheese. I often default to fruit, fish or chicken salads, or a higher protein yoghurt or protein drink. There are thankfully plenty of options in the supermarkets for when we are busy on the go!
That’s a wrap on part 1, I’d like to acknowledge that I am incredibly lucky to have the time and flexibility to look after our boy the way I do. Everyone’s experiences will be different, and not everyone can approach life this way. I hope this article can offer some inspiration or comfort in this wild adventure of being ‘dad’.
Part 2 will drop soon where I’ll cover sleep, rest, and family life.